The family of former Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger has filed a wrongful death claim against the federal government, saying he was "deliberately placed in harm's way" when he was transferred to a new prison and placed in general population less than a day before he was beaten to death.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the filing on Friday morning. They said the claim is a "precursor to a lawsuit," and seeks $200 million in damages. But attorneys for the family told the newspaper the real reason for the filing is to find out why Bulger was transferred.
Bulger, 89, was beaten to death on Oct. 30, 2018, soon after being transferred to a federal prison in West Virginia. He was reportedly transferred to USP Hazelton for disciplinary reasons after his medical classification was suddenly changed.
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"We believe that James Bulger was deliberately placed in harm’s way," the Bulger family said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. "There is simply no other explanation for the transfer of someone in his condition and inmate status to be placed in the general population of one of the country’s most violent federal penitentiaries."
The reason for Bulger's death remains a mystery to this day. Investigators have never said which of the at least four men sent to solitary confinement following the attack beat Bulger to death, why he was transferred to Hazelton or why he was placed in general population despite known health issues.
According to the New York Times, video images showed two inmates rolling Bulger into a corner of his cell and beating him savagely with a padlock in a sock. He was later found wrapped in blankets, posed to appear as if he were sleeping.
Bulger was serving a life sentence for participating in 11 killings at the time of his death. He worked as an FBI informant who ratted on the New England Mob while simultaneously running his own crime ring responsible for loansharking, extortion and a string of murders.
He fled Boston in late 1994 after being tipped off by his FBI handler that he was about to be indicted. He spent the next 16 years as one of America's most wanted fugitives until he was found in 2011, living with his girlfriend in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, California.
Federal officials have only said they are investigating Bulger's death as a homicide. No charges have been filed.